To George Washington
[Philadelphia, July 8, 1798]
I was much surprized on my arrival here to discover that your nomination had been without any previous consultation of you.1 Convinced of the goodness of the motives it would be useless to scan the propriety of the step. It is taken and the question is—what under the circumstances ought to be done? I use the liberty which my attachment to you and to the public authorises to offer my opinion that you should not decline the appointment. It is evident that the public satisfaction at it is lively and universal. It is not to be doubted that the circumstance will give an additional spring to the public mind—will tend much to unite and will facilitate the measures which the conjuncture requires—on the other hand, your declining would certainly produce the opposite effects, would throw a great damp upon the ardor of the Country inspiring the idea that the Crisis was not really serious or alarming. At least then, Let me entreat you & in this all your friends indeed all good citizens will unite, that if you do not give an unqualified acceptance that you accept provisionally—making your entering upon the duties to depend on future events so that the Community may look up to you as their certain Commander. But I prefer a simple acceptance.
It may be well however to apprise you that the arrangement of the army may demand your particular attention. The President has no relative ideas & his prepossessions on military subjects in reference to such a point are of the wrong sort. It is easy for us to have a good army but the selection requires care—it is necessary to inspire confidence in the efficient part of those who may incline to military service. Much adherence to routine would do great harm. Men of capacity & exertion in the higher stations are indispensable. It deserves consideration whether your presence at the seat of Government is not necessary. If you accept it will be conceived that the arrangement is yours & you will be responsible for it in reputaton. This & the influence of a right arrangement upon future success seem to require that you should in one mode or another see efficaciously that the arrangement is such as you would approve.
I remain Dr Sir Yr. Affect & obedt servant
ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Because of the threat of war with France, Congress on May 28, 1798, passed “An Act authorizing the President of the United States to raise a Provisional Army,” which was not to exceed ten thousand men (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 558–61). This act also provided “That whenever the President shall deem it expedient, he is hereby empowered to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a commander of the army which may be raised by virtue of this act, and who being commissioned as lieutenant-general may be authorized to command the armies of the United States.…”
On June 22, 1798, John Adams wrote to Washington: “In forming an Army, whenever I must come to that Extremity, I am at an immense Loss whether to call out the old Generals or to appoint a young Sett. If the French come here we must learn to march with a quick Step, and to Attack, for in that way only they are Said to be vulnerable. I must tax you, Sometimes for Advice. We must have your Name, if you, in any case permit Us to Use it. There will be more efficacy in it, than in many an Army” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). On July 2, before Washington had replied to this letter, Adams nominated Washington “Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of all the armies raised, or to be raised, in the United States,” and on the following day the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 284). On July 4 Washington replied to Adams’s letter of June 2 and stated: “… In case of actual Invasion by a formidable force, I certainly should not Intrench myself under the cover of Age & retirement, if my services should be required by my Country, to assist in repelling it” (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). On July 7 Adams wrote to Washington informing him of his appointment (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress) and entrusted the letter to James McHenry to deliver to Washington (Adams to McHenry, July 6, 1798 [LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress]). McHenry delivered Adams’s letter to Washington on July 11 (McHenry to Adams, July 10, 1798 [ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]), and on July 13 Washington wrote to Adams accepting the appointment (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.